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Special needs in the media: Why the neglect?

Anchel Krishna laments the lack of diversity in the media after watching a commercial about motherhood.

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Syona gets around in her walker. Photo: Anchel Krishna

Follow along as Anchel Krishna shares her experiences as mother to Syona, an extraordinary toddler with cerebral palsy.

Thanks to the Internet, we now have round-the-clock exposure to the good, the bad and the ugly. I could argue that this is both a good thing (hello, access to information, funny videos and awesome friends I’ve made online) and a bad thing (cyber bullying, an overload of “upworthy” moments and the ability to have all our worst moments live online forever).

This week, a friend shared this lovely commercial. It’s an ad for a baby carrier and really touches on the personal, beautiful moments of motherhood.

I watched the video about three times. I read the text of the video another three times. Then I sighed. A great, big, blow-all-the-air-out of your lungs sigh.

That specific sigh has become my body’s response to so many things since I had Syona:

  • Getting a refinement to her diagnosis of cerebral palsy.
  • Getting the results of a test or assessment.
  • Finding out that something funky is happening with her muscles, bones, or both.
  • Quotes on the extra gear that comes with having a child with physical needs.
  • Hearing the word “retard” or “spazz.”
  • Seeing something online or in the media that captures the experience of motherhood, yet manages to leave me completely isolated in my experience.

While I could write a post on each of those sigh-inducing moments, I’m going to focus on the last one. I identify with almost all of what is said in the video (well, except for the part about the 8 lbs baby since Syona was just over 4 lbs when she was born), but what they show in the video doesn’t match my reality. It’s filled with parents and sweet, adorable little ones crawling, walking, running and jumping around. I would have loved to see a little kid using canes, or in a walker, or a wheelchair or something else that acknowledges that kids—and parenthood—comes in all shapes, sizes, cultures and abilities. I would have loved to see this commercial doing something that acknowledges the diversity of our parenting experience, especially since they do such a wonderful job of acknowledging the thoughts and emotions many of us have shared. It got me wondering why the media largely chooses to exclude images of little ones who have disabilities.

Is it because the general public can’t handle seeing kids of different abilities? Is it too sad of an image? Does it depict their worst fears in a visual way and that idea is just too scary? As a parent of a child who has a very visible disability let me tell you that our existence is not sad, tragic or filled with fear. We have the same ups and downs as any family—we likely just tend to celebrate the ups a little more. We know that our story could have been different and had an ending that didn’t leave us with our spunky little girl. So whether I’m right or wrong, I feel entitled to having my experience of parenthood acknowledged and included. I want to see parents like me and kids of all abilities in the media.

I know, it’s just a commercial. And I’d like to think that organizations don’t knowingly exclude kids with disabilities. Maybe they just don’t think about how important it is to acknowledge the diversity that exists in our world. But I want my girl, and kids like her, to grow up and see themselves in the world that surrounds them.

What do you think?